Welcome to a new era of art-appreciation in Seattle. After inviting the city to enjoy the waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park just a few short months ago, SAM hosted a grand opening celebration for its new downtown expansion on May 5 and 6 and has been welcoming crowds of visitors through its doors ever since. There's no need to pack up the kids and haul them to other cities to expose them to art's greats now. Not only has SAM been able to bring favorite works out of storage, the museum has also filled its gleaming galleries with prize artworks recently given to the museum by well-known Seattle collectors, including Barney Ebsworth and Virginia and Bagley Wright. Many of these pieces are featured in the inaugural exhibition SAM at 75: Building a Collection for Seattle. Beyond room after room of artwork old and new, SAM has also developed several exciting spaces specifically for families.
Places to play in the galleries
With admission, visitors can browse the galleries and children can play in the Knudsen Family Room, which is nestled behind the American Art Galleries on the third floor. After families wind their way past rich eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings by notables John Singleton Copley, Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, they can round a corner to find themselves in a day-lit activity room full of books, games, puppets, costumes, touchable art objects and other hands-on artifacts. The room is flanked by large activity drawers, providing space to move about, and two computer stations offer access to information about artworks.
Upstairs on the fourth floor, kids and their adults will be thrilled with 1,000 Blocks, a table of movable, patterned walnut blocks by Ballard jeweler Curtis Steiner, located in the new Lockwood Foundation Living Room. The Living Room is adjacent to the special exhibition shop and provides a place to stop after viewing the stunning pieces of the museum's current special exhibition, which includes the dramatic sculpture Bird in Space by Constantin Brancusi and an entire room devoted to the varied styles of Gerhard Richter.
Something for every age
While in the galleries, young children will appreciate art displayed at kid height. The Porcelain Room features brightly colored china, protected behind glass, from ceiling to floor, with eye-catching objects at toddler level. People of all sizes can go inside the Italian Room to think about life in a sixteenth-century villa. The new African Galleries are filled with animal-themed masks, life-sized figures in bright clothes, and a video projection of shadows on the wall. The dots and squiggles of the large paintings in the Australian and Aboriginal Art Galleries will resonate with young children, and a video of the story of their creation is projected onto the floor.
Japanese pop art on the third floor will please many teens, but even babies will respond to the playful Flower Ball by Takashi Murakami. The dramatic new double-height modern art gallery offers thought-provoking works of a monumental scale, such as SAM's well-known Some One by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh, made up of thousands of military dog tags, and the imposing rodent of Mann und Maus by German artist Katharina Fritsch. An entire gallery devoted to Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence offers perennial elementary-age favorites.
Visitors can now see representative works from nearly every major Western art movement and many, many important names. Kids can be introduced to Kahlo, Pollock, O'Keeffe, Sargent, Cassatt, Uccello, Dürer, Monet, Renoir, Duchamp -- you name it! And with more diverse exhibits, parents and kids alike will find something to connect with, whether it is a Roman artifact, a landscape painting, a glowing glass object, a sinister-looking sculpture, a quilt, a Native American totem, or a modern abstract wash of color.
Art and activities for free
Perhaps most exciting for kids (and for parents on a budget) are the free spaces the museum has created for the community. Upon entering through the main doors on First Avenue and University Street, kids can instantly marvel at Inopportune: Stage One by the cutting-edge Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The cars of this installation appear as though they are toppling end-over-end, exploding with tubes of colored light.
The museum's "south building" (the former downtown museum building) is now home the Art Ladder, which includes the Artist Created Experiences (ACE) Project, the WaMu Open Studio and the Think Tank.
What used to be the museum café is now the WaMu Open Studio, where enticing projects wait at the ready on vast art tables and the walls are lined with bins of pens, paper and other art materials. The Open Studio will be home to Family Fun Days, art-making activities, demonstrations and workshops.
Local artist Jason Puccinelli, a former set-builder, was commissioned for the first installation of the ACE Project. Just outside the Open Studio, he has created a virtual, interactive forest using painted wooden trees, hidden video cameras and projection screens. Taking inspiration from René Magritte, the installation plays with perception and perspectives. Puccinelli has enlivened a cozy space in the Second Avenue Niche with a giant mural of a child that deceives the eye. Even the wheelchair ramp has been creatively embellished with a painting on three planes.
At the top of the stairs, the museum's old special exhibitions store has been transformed into the Think Tank, a space for artists-in-residence programming. The 2005 Betty Bowen award winner and local artist Marie Watt has made her blanket-themed projects come to life with her installation Custodian, which prompts visitors to contemplate the idea of "cultural custodians." In this space, visitors are invited to donate blankets to Watt's work in exchange for a silkscreen print and to tell the stories of their blankets.
A tasty snack
Families can recharge between galleries with a stop for lunch at the deceptively kid-friendly TASTE restaurant. Adults can dine on sophisticated meals with a seasonal twist, while the kids can count on their favorites, such as organic mac and cheese and peanut butter and jelly, at prices that definitely beat MOMA's.
That's not all
In case new spaces are not enough, the museum has a full schedule of revamped family-friendly summer programs, including new programs for teens. For more information, visit our calendar, or go to www.seattleartmuseum.org.
The Seattle Art Museum is located at 1300 First Avenue and is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. Suggested admission is $13 for adults, $7 for youth 13-19, and free for children under 12, and includes admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum on Capitol Hill. Membership starts at $85 for families. The museum is free on the first Thursday of every month.
Image: Establishing the Rules of Matter, Jason Puccinelli, 2007, courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Timothy Aguero Photography